The Art Of Curating Single Ingredient Menu
Image Credit: Image courtesy The Leela Palace New Delhi

Food columnist and historian and author Anoothi Vishal has been known for her Kasyasth cuisine but she is equally a star when it comes to creating something innovative yet tempting. 

Recently in association with US Cranberry Marketing Committee, under the aegis of the US Department of Agriculture, Anoothi curated two unique Chaat festivals at Punjab Grill and The Leela aptly dubbed Sunehri Dhoop and Cranberries, Chaat and Chai respectively, where traditional Old and New Delhi bites have been recreated in coordination with different chefs Pan India with the intention of bringing cranberries to mainstream menus in an innovative manner. 

In a quick chit chat with her during the lovely session that specially curated by her at the The Leela Palace New Delhi she expressed her view on how cranberries have much versatile flavour profile. 

How does interesting is it to create/ curate menu with single ingredients? 

The depth in Indian regional cuisines and a "tradition of inventiveness" in India's culinary cultures as I call it makes our food very open to experimentation. It is exciting as a food historian to see the real-time layering of flavours and slight tweaks in old or popular recipe brought about by even one single global ingredient.

As a food historian, going over heritage dishes, one can only imagine some of these tweaks. Mughal dishes for instance only had cardamom and black pepper as aromats or spices to begin with, instead of the bouquet of ingredients we use today. We used Colocasia in meat dishes, where today aloo-meat is a nostalgic dish of homes. Ingredients like potatoes, chilies, tomatoes, and in fact even "chini" (refined sugar, from china) or dalchini (cassia, from China) and few more have changed Indian cuisines texture and flavour over centuries. Mithai, namkeen, chaat all these beloved pop traditions are a result of inventiveness as newer ingredients became available to the masses. So it’s anyday exciting to be working in a deep, nuanced way with a new ingredient in existing traditions

Has the influx of international products changed the market scenario and outlook of chefs and restaurants as well?

International products have always been there in Indian restaurants. Lately, as more countries are realizing the idea of "food diplomacy" as well as the depth of the urban Indian Middle class market, we are seeing more of these coming in-- in a more structured way. India has also signed free trade agreements with strategic partners and thus these are part of mutual trade relations. I feel, there is no harm in experimenting with high quality ingredients because no culinary culture is insular.

If price, quality and supply chains are good, restaurants will obviously be encouraged to use these ingredients creatively. Of course, local gastronomy is a big movement too in Indian restaurants. But something sourced from Tamil Nadu or Lakshwadeep for Delhi is not really "local" at all. India is after all a continent. What is important is that restaurants follow a balanced approach, make use of Indian and international diversity in intelligent, nuanced and creative ways to create better sophisticated choices for us

Sharing one of her recipes with us here it goes

Shahar Ke Kulle

Potato and cucumber cups filled with fresh green peas and dried US cranberries, a recreation of a typical chaat from Mathur homes in old Delhi, that is still referred to as "Shahar", The City, by the community of medieval scribes that I belong to


    4 small potatoes, boiled but firm

    2 cucumber

    1 cup fresh green winter peas, shelled, boiled lightly 

    3 tbsp dried US cranberries

    100 ml cranberry juice

    50 ml lime juice

    Salt to taste

    Sugar, powdered: 1/2 tsp

    Kala chaat masala (or any other) 

    Ginger slivers, 1 tsp


    Peel the potatoes, cut into 2 halves each, and scoop out each half to make small "cups" 

    Peel the cucumbers, cut into 1-2 inch rounds, scoop out the flesh from the centre, while letting the base intact, to make small cups

    Put the cups or "KULLE" on a tray. set aside. 

    For the filling, mix the green peas, dried cranberries, Kala chaat masala (an old delhi special), salt, sugar in a bowl. Add the lime juice and cranberry juice as a dressing. Toss well. Check the taste--it should be tangy. 

    Spoon the mix into the KULLE. Top with a sliver of ginger each. 

    Serve at room temperature

Note: Traditionally, this chaat used the hyper-local small chickpeas available in old delhi only as filling. But in my family, fresh green peas were often substituted in winter months when the peas have sweetness. Dried US cranberries mixed with the sweet peas offer a contrasting tartness and crunch in the mix, which makes this recipe more enjoyable.